Air battles over Flevoland. Part 17: That humming in the air gave courage

“It was those men that you heard, and it was those men you saw die”.

The story of the salvage officer who was involved in the salvage of, in particular, Allied aircraft wrecks in the Flevoland polders.


Contrail of Allied aircraft (Batavialand, G.J. Zwanenburg Collection).

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America was at war because of Japan. There were a lot of Americans who knew who the enemy was in Europe. That was Germany. We all know that the Americans crossed the ocean to help in the fight against Germany. These guys in their aircrafts came from everywhere, from all walks of life. The American pilots, navigators and bombardiers were all officers.

They were well educated. The others were non-commissioned officers. The aircrew were at least sergeants. They had higher wages because they were more at risk than a sergeant with the ground staff. The Germans used this against the Americans saying “Sie fliegen für Dollars” (they are only flying for dollars). It was a magnificent sight seeing them flying during the day. At night you could hear the English but not see them, you only saw the day flights! We counted two thousand in August 1944. Difficult to imagine. At the time it was something special. The Germans said we were not allowed to wave to them or anything, so you had to be very careful. In the beginning, the Germans tried to win the Dutch over by saying things like "Go with us, we have defeated England." Except ... each night the English men were back again! The sound of the aircraft saying: We are here and we are doing something about it. It went on more and more. That gave us courage.

Where did this interest come from? From the fact that you'd experienced it as a boy. I already told you about the aircraft we saw flying. Three weeks later, in the afternoon of Sunday the 2nd of March, we heard an aircraft and a bang. Boom. Bomb in the harbour. No air raid, so everyone went to the harbour to look. The whole harbour was crowded with people. And twenty minutes later, a British aircraft flew over. I recognized the type, a Beaufort. He was quite low. Everyone was waving and they waved back and then they were gone! After the war, I got in touch with the pilot. He told to me:

“You were a couple of bloody..... I might have dropped my second bomb!"

He didn’t and that's what I told him. (then F/Lt. Later Wg/Cdr Tony Gadd DFC & Bar of Coastel Cmd. We became good friends, and when he visited Harlingen became ´citizen of honour´!)

These were the parts of the war that you had to deal with in the occupied territories. It were those men that you heard and it were those men you saw die. You saw them killed. It was forced upon you, the young boys had nothing to do. They couldn’t go anywhere and the air warfare was the only exciting thing happening for them. The schools were occupied, as Harlingen was a port and the military had taken over and occupied all the schools. I knew all the aircrafts at that time. That interested me and the other boys too. In Friesland we had a pole vault, so we could cross the land no problem . I can still remember that we were at an aircarft crashsite picking up stuff when we heard "Was machen Sie da?" (what are you doing there?). A German sentry. We said, 'nur gucken " (just looking) as we were not really allowed to be so close!

Source: Batavialand, interview by Lenie Bolle with Gerrie Zwanenburg, 16th September, 2009.

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